After 19 months of darkness (that’s theater lingo for not having a show), the stage and house lights are on again at Flat Rock Playhouse with the production of “Autumn at the Opry”, a diverse and uplifting tribute to predominantly country music.
Unlike some musical journals which create scenes to represent the music, this is more of a concert of a group of musicians.
No major changes in costume or decor, just eight talented performers in jeans and flannel shirts, cowboy boots and hats, choosing and singing songs that have stood the test of time to be reinvented in the mountains of Canada. western North Carolina.
Director Lisa Bryant and her Creative Directors Eric Anthony, Katie Barton and Ben Hope (who are also performers), have chosen a great list of songs (albeit subject to change) that started with tunes that get out of the house. after months of pandemic isolation a joie de vivre: “Love Bug” (George Jones, 1965), “On The Road Again” (Willie Nelson, 1980), “I’m Alright” (Jo Dee Messina, 1998), “Great Day to be Alive” (Travis Tritt, 2000), “Born of Boogie” (Hank Williams Jr. 1987).
Each of these opening songs ignites and stirs a growing appreciation among audiences that life is good and goes on despite having to wear mouth covers and nose covers in the theater.
The first landmark performance of the evening is that of Lauren Wright, a young woman who plays the violin like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (The Charlie Daniels Band, 1979) with an endless smile on her face.
She plays the violin throughout the show, but for her first solo she sings “Love Wins”, a politically unifying song made famous by Carrie Underwood in 2018. Clarity of voice and Wright’s personal passion are the key ingredients. more perfect for customers to wipe away tears. hope.
Throughout the performance, the standing talent sings and changes stringed instruments to meet the needs of each song.
The show’s host is Ben Hope with his sidekick Eric Anthony. These two men have been seen on the Flat Rock Playhouse stage before and have made careers on Broadway and all points beyond. Together they structure the performance and keep Nat Zegree and his exuberant talent under control.
As you might expect, Zegree is still a force of nature when it comes to spectacular piano playing and engaging audiences with a lot of personality. He and his piano sit not so quietly on the left side of the stage with plenty of elbow room when he decides to play backwards and forwards a bit.
He certainly knows how to put the woogie in the boogies in songs such as “Born to Boogie” and “Hadacol Boogie” (Bill Nettles, 1949). Her “Nat’s Joke Corner” routine works hand in hand with the show, giving her just the right touch of humor that makes your head shake.
Jeremy Sevelovitz is the tall glass of water that gets noticed for songs like “Great Day to Be Alive” and “She’s Got the Rhythm”. Not only is he a multi-instrumentalist, but an accomplished songwriter with a beautiful voice with good scope. Some artists do not ignite constantly: they burn over low and hot heat over the long term.
Katie Barton is another tall glass of refreshing water and Ben Hope’s wife. She and the double bass make a beautiful couple, but her talent continues over and over again. She and steel guitarist Russ Wever bring down the house with “Walking After Midnight” (Patsy Cline, 1961).
Her interpretation of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (Loretta Lynn, 1971) made the country vibrate. I love him and Wright’s duo in “Any Man of Mine” (Shania Twain, 1995).
Hats off to both drummer Paul Babelay and steel guitarist Wever, seasoned musicians who were attached to their seats but who provide the rhythm and that true country sound to the ensemble.
Wever did it before – “Autumn at the Opry” – three years ago. During his 28 years in musical theater, he performed in all the big places: Branson, New York and Nashville.
Babelay has also performed professionally internationally, and his name often appears in Flat Rock Playhouse posters. His talent put him in touch with comedians Don Rickles and Martin Short, and R&B diva Chaka Khan. He’s been keeping the beat at Flat Rock Playhouse for 28 years and it continues.
Without reservation, I give five stars to “Automne à l’Opry”. Bryant and his company took the pulse of WNC and said it was time to get out and play.
Even if you are not a fan of country music, this show will thrill your scooter bootie and take you two steps down the aisles.
Remember to bring your nose and mouth covers (I’m trying to stop saying “masks.”) And your proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative test result.
“Autumn at the Opry” runs through October 31st at the Playhouse, 2661 Greenville Highway, Flat Rock. Visit https://flatrockplayhouse.org/ for tickets or more information.